Home News Local News Public defenders show support for Black Lives Matter

Public defenders show support for Black Lives Matter

Alex Ross Photo From left, Deirdre Ewing, Renee Broberg, Ira Shiflett, Joanne Angel, Jordan Beal, Zillah Fillepin and Layla Panthai, 11, all “take a knee” and observe an eight-minute, 46-second moment of silence for George Floyd during a demonstration Monday on the lawn outside the Chaves County Courthouse. The event was one of many taking place across the nation as public defenders showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Attorneys with the New Law Office of the Public Defender in Roswell gathered on the lawn outside the Chaves County Courthouse Monday, as part of a nationwide coordinated effort by public defenders across the United States to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement and speak out against police brutality.

Public Defenders for Racial Justice and the Contra Costa Public Defenders, both California-based organizations, spearheaded the nationwide effort that included the Roswell demonstration as well as similar events in Albuquerque, Aztec, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, according to a press release from the New Mexico Office of the Public Defender.

“Public defenders’ offices across the country today are demonstrating to demonstrate that public defenders care about black lives and that they matter,” said Deirdre Ewing, district defender in Roswell and Carlsbad.

Participants at the Roswell event knelt down and observed an eight-minute, 46-second moment of silence for George Floyd, the same amount of time that Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, had pressed his knee down on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American who ultimately died during the encounter.

Video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck during the May 25 encounter has gone viral and sparked global protests against police brutality.

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Chauvin has since been arrested and faces one count of second degree murder for his actions. Three other officers also face charges related to the incident.

Renee Broberg, a local public defender at the demonstration, called Floyd’s death and treatment by police “a gross injustice.”

“So that is what brought me out today,” Broberg said.

As attorneys often tasked with representing defendants, many of whom are people of color, Ewing said racial inequity in the justice system is something she and her colleagues see on a daily basis.

Though African-Americans make up 2% of the population in New Mexico, they are 6.2 times more likely to end up in the prison system than whites, she said.

Likewise, though Hispanics make up 49% of the population of New Mexico compared with 37% whites, Ewing said Hispanics are twice as likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

She added African-American defendants are also more likely to receive longer sentences then whites or to be held without bond.

Jordan Beal, an attorney with the Roswell Office of the Public Defender who has also worked with public defenders in New York and in Nevada, said that throughout his career he has seen people of color more often charged with crimes and punished more harshly than whites who commit the same crimes.

Across the country, the death of Floyd has led to increased calls for reforms to police departments. A majority of members on the Minneapolis City Council have even expressed support for abolishing their police department.

Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself and not for the Public Defender’s Office, Beal said he would have to learn more about the proposal in Minneapolis before he can take a stance on it, but added that money should be directed more towards programs that keep people out of the criminal justice system.

Ewing said going forward she would like police to focus more on training on ways to deescalate situations without the use of force.

The use of force, she said, should only be used as a last resort, and if at all possible should not be a resort at all.

“There are plenty of police forces around the world that don’t carry weapons, that manage to deescalate without recourse to violence, and that is something, I would like to see more of that in this country,” she added.

Ewing though added that she is far less worried about police brutality in Chaves County then she is in other places such as Albuquerque, where she previously worked as a public defender.

“And we don’t see that here in Chaves County,” she said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.


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